GROTON -- In a special session Monday, selectmen met with two finalists chosen by a search committee as they seek a replacement for retiring Fire Chief Joseph Bosselait.
Inviting the two in separately, selectmen questioned each extensively covering a number of subjects, including sensitive issues that have arisen in the media.
Members were notified of the identities of the finalists by Town Manager Mark Haddad in a previous meeting where they learned that Steele McCurdy, deputy chief for Littleton; and Robert Hart, deputy chief for Acton, had been chosen from more than two dozen candidates.
The search process began with the development of a departmental profile, followed by advertisements in local media outlets, which resulted in 25 applications.
At that point, a formal search committee was established to review the candidates which were cut down to five and interviews conducted. That number was then reduced to three and then to McCurdy and Hart.
McCurdy was first to be interviewed and told selectmen one of his strengths was in "working with stakeholders" and having a "well-rounded skill set."
He says those are qualities that could come in handy if he were chosen in light of recent friction between full-time firemen and volunteers, a relationship selectmen were quick to ask the candidate about.
"I'm someone who can listen and build a consensus," said McCurdy of his confidence in working out any differences between each side.
Hart said he "played well in the sandbox" and possessed the "people skills" necessary to smooth over any problems between departmental employees.
People skills were one of his main strengths, said Hart. He could empathize with a cross section of people due to his experience in the private sector, and as a fireman.
"I believe that my 20 years of experience on the Fire Department and the carpentry business gives me skills the average person doesn't have," says Hart. "I understand the work ethic and I understand people."
Hart believed he had the ability to empathize and bring conflicting sides to common ground and inspire subordinates to do better.
Hart called himself a "team player" and likened himself to a coach who could get the most out of his players.
"But the fire chief cannot stand above it all," Hart said of questions dealing with a "strong chief" versus a "weak chief. "He needs the resources of the town."
McCurdy said his experience in Littleton had given him a "well-rounded skill set" and a management style that involved the inclusion of everyone on his team in the decision-making process.
McCurdy also that with a growing town like Groton and its steady increase in emergency calls, it was likely that down the road, the Fire Department would become a full-time organization.
That could not be ignored, he said, and any future fire chief should plan for the long term.
McCurdy reassured selectmen there was still "plenty of life left in that (call-firefighter) model."
Other issues touched upon by selectmen included how to make sure officers met expected standards of behavior and performance, the handling of personnel, transportation through town and protection from hazardous materials, forest fires, the recruitment of call firefighters, dealing with unions, budget formulation and capital planning.
With the conclusion of the interviews, candidates were expected to take part in an exhaustive evaluation program to be played out the following day.
The program, conducted by the MMA Consulting Group, is intended to test the candidates and evaluate their leadership, supervisory, administrative, and management skills.
McCurdy and Hart are to take part in a series of exercises and will then be judged based on such criteria as communication skills, decision-making, reasoning, problem analysis, technical competence, strategic planning, negotiating, human relations and counseling.
Whoever is chosen by selectmen will replace Bosselait, who has been on the job for 14 years and is due to retire June 30.